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Concerns rise over how Gov. Healey's administration will distribute funding throughout Massachusetts

Mass. House Speaker Ron Mariano speaks to the press at the State House in Boston.
Sam Doran
State House News Service
Mass. House Speaker Ron Mariano speaks to the press at the State House in Boston.

Municipal leaders in Massachusetts are worried. For eight years, Gov. Charlie Baker's budget proposed an increase of unrestricted local aid to cities and towns by that projected rate of growth in state tax revenues. But now, those revenue forecasts aren't as rosy. Chris Lisinski from the State House News Service explains how new Gov. Maura Healey could handle this in her budget, which is due out next month.

Chris Lisinski, State House News Service: We're still waiting to find out what Governor Healey's approach will be to this really key pot of unrestricted local aid. We know that she'srolled out some plans for Chapter 90 road and bridge maintenance funding, but she's kept her cards close to the vest on other types of municipal aid for government and for schools. And she's hearing pleas now, as you noted, from municipalities, to increase it more than the roughly 1.6% that the Healey administration expects state tax revenues to grow by.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: So, isn't it tied in some way to state revenue projections currently?

Yeah, there's no real formal trigger requiring it to be tied, this was more of a practice that Gov. Charlie Baker did during his eight years in office. When he first started out, it was seen as an upside to cities and towns. They knew that they had a guaranteed increase that would be at least as much as the state expected to increase its own coffers. But now, with the forecast looking pretty muted for the year ahead, cities and towns are changing their tune and saying, 'hey, wait a second, 1.6%. That's not enough to help us face our own rising costs.'

And meanwhile, some school districts are relying on federal emergency relief money to cover recurring costs like operation and salaries. But those funds are set to run out. Do lawmakers have any plans for rescuing schools from that fiscal cliff?

No, there's no hard plans in place for lawmakers at this point, as is the case on many policy issues, they're still getting up to speed. What we do know is that Gov. Healey pledges she will fully fund the Student Opportunity Act in her first year. That's the seven year $1.5 billion K-12 school funding reform law from a few years ago. So, that's a guaranteed source of funding that districts are going to be able to tap into. But beyond that, plans are still unclear.

Chris, I attended a briefing last week where some lawmakers and advocates urged the legislature to quickly take up a supplemental budget put forward by Healey. Among the items in that proposal, some state funding to help soften the blow for Massachusetts residents who, come next month, will see a huge drop in federal food stamp benefits. It also has extra money to make sure schools can keep providing free meals for all students, for this school year at least. Any word on when legislative leaders will act on that bill?

No, there's no indication. Reporters asked House Speaker Ron Mariano last week about the timing for that, and his answer was basically, 'Ask the Ways and Means Committee,' which is never exactly an indication that something has an urgency attached to it. And this is going to be school vacation week. So it's going to be a quiet one up here on Beacon Hill, so it very well could be March, which is the deadline attached to these programs before we see any action on the bill.

And now there is a Ways and Means Committee to ask.

That is correct. We finally got the committee assignments and leadership assignments for the term. So now full teams are in place on both the House and Senate and they'll start the work of carving up the thousands of bills that were filed in January and figuring out a path forward on them.

Gov. Healey tapped State Rep. Jon Santiago, D-Boston, to the newly created post of Veterans Services secretary. The position carries additional importance after the management and oversight failures at the Holyoke Soldiers Home three years ago, contributing to a large COVID outbreak. What's Santiago's background?

He's going to come into this job both as someone with military experience and health care experience, which I think is particularly significant since you note the background of this law related to the soldier's home. Santiago is an emergency room physician in Boston right now, and he's also a major in the U.S. Army Reserve who, in fact, just returned from a deployment overseas pretty recently.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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